Jefferson City Council nears decision on conference center

Choice to be made in open session

After months of closed door meetings, the Jefferson City Council may be nearing a final decision on a conference center proposal.

Council members have been meeting in closed session for contract negotiations and sealed bids, contracts and related documents since moving two competing conference center proposals forward late last year. City Attorney Drew Hilpert said the council is nearing a final decision, as most, if not all, of the requested information has now been received from the developers.

“The council’s been meeting with the developers, getting additional numbers and what they’re really trying to do is kind of pinpoint the full details of each plan,” Hilpert said.

In mid-November, the City Council voted 6-4 to move conference center proposals from both Jefferson City-based Farmer Holding Co. and Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group forward into the contract negotiation phase. There is no timeline for completing the next phase, with Hilpert saying at the time of the vote that it could take from two months to two years before contracts are ready to be presented.

Farmer Holding Co. has proposed a $36 million hotel and conference center at the Capital Mall; Ehrhardt Hospitality has proposed a $24.6 million hotel and conference center at the West McCarty Street site, which is owned by the state.

Hilpert said the state has been “cooperative and very helpful” in negotiations for the West McCarty Street property, and the city is moving toward a resolution on that issue.

The Ehrhardt Groups’ total cost does not include an estimated $2 million for land acquisition, which is expected to be paid by the city, or an estimated $7 million for a city built and operated parking garage.

Hilpert said the council is trying to ensure that whichever plan is chosen will make sense for the voters, be a sensible use of taxpayer money and be successful.

“We’re trying to wrap that up and really get to a point where there’s two plans that are as much apples to apples as they can be,” Hilpert said. “It’s been a difficult process.”

Hilpert said he can’t give a real estimate of when people can expect the conference center issue to return to the public view and would only specify “soon.”

He did note the council plans on making the final decision in open session in front of the public, though he said he was unsure how the two final plans would be detailed for the public before a final vote is taken.

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